Search engines play a significant role in how people receive information, and users place a large amount of trust in the ability of search engines to produce reliable results. The issue arises when users are unaware that many search results are influenced by external factors such as SEO techniques to achieve high rankings. This may lead to users trusting unreliable information and fake news. Paid ads can be distinguished with a clearly visible label, but an SEO generated search result is not as easy to identify. For this reason, researchers Dirk Lewandowski and Sebastian Schultheiß (2020) hypothesized that the average user is far less aware of SEO than paid search marketing.

Research questions
Lewandowski and Schultheiß’s research aimed to understand user knowledge of SEO, user attitudes toward SEO and the potential consequences of users receiving their knowledge from the internet. To find these answers, they asked research subjects the following questions:
RQ1: What knowledge do internet users have of paid search marketing (PSM)?
RQ2: What knowledge do internet users have of search engine optimization (SEO)?
RQ3: Are internet users able to distinguish between organic results and ads on Google’s search engine results pages?
RQ4: How strong do internet users believe SEO can impact the search results?
RQ5: What opinions do internet users have about the influence that SEO can have on search results?

Research results
For knowledge of paid search marketing, the results found that 79% of users knew that website operators could use paid ads, and 79% were also aware of the influence paid ads can have on search results. 68% of users knew that ads were Google’s primary source of revenue. While 42% of participants claimed they could distinguish organic search results from paid results, only 29% knew that an ad label is what separates a paid ad from an organic result. These results show that users have some understanding of paid ads and the impact they can have on search results.
In a study of search results that were either organic or paid, participants were far more likely to recognize paid results. Despite a lack of knowledge or identification of SEO, more than half of participants assumed that SEO has a strong influence on search rankings. 72% of those interviewed also viewed SEO as positive. Notably, higher educated participants were more likely to view SEO negatively. These results reinforce the idea that many users trust SEO despite knowing little about it.

Given that less educated users had a more positive viewpoint of SEO, there is clearly a lack of information about the topic. This is potentially dangerous, as SEO techniques can prioritize false information. Many users may assume this information as true based on its high search ranking. If you are running an online business, your website will be competing for online traffic with paid ads, organic SEO and potentially unreliable information. To succeed in 2023, you must utilize SEO techniques and stand out from the competition by establishing your business as an expert source of trustworthy information.

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